Friday, October 26, 2018

Not knowing how to say it

I love this passage in Karl Ove Knausgaard's Inadvertent, the latest in the "Why I Write" series from Yale University Press. (The book was translated from the Norwegian by Ingvild Burkey.) Discussing his own epic My Struggle series of autobiographical novels, Knausgaard acknowledges that in order to write he had to let go, to "abdicate as king of myself," as he puts it, and let "the literary, in other words writing and the forms of writing, lead the way."
That is also the method employed in writing this essay. I have written literary texts for thirty years, and for twenty of them I have done it full-time; in short, I have spent my entire adult life writing. This means that I know a great deal about what it is to write, and about why I do it. Yet despite this great knowledge, I have been sitting in front of my screen for three days, not knowing what to say—or rather, not knowing how to say it. And as soon as I got started, by writing that the simplicity of the question was treacherous, my pathway through the material took a certain direction, excluding all the other possible paths, so that only what I am writing now could be written. This is what became accessible, not all the rest. And perhaps even more important: I still don’t know what lies ahead, what to say, where this essay is going. 
This is so because I have to hit upon it inadvertently, or it has to hit upon me. It is one thing to know something, another to write about it, and often knowing stands in the way of writing. Make it new, Ezra Pound said—and is there any other way to do that than to let everything we know about something fall away and regard it from a position of defenselessness and unknowing?

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